With the NBA season quickly winding down, there’s been a number of players who have upped their games in a big way.
Despite being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Deandre Ayton flew under the radar as a rookie last season. That’s no longer the case.
Both Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum earned All-Star appearances for the first time this season. Each young wing is among the best young forwards in the game.
These are among the seven biggest breakout stars thus far during the 2019-20 NBA season.
Deandre Ayton, center, Phoenix Suns
The No. 1 overall pick back in 2018, Ayton did not get much play as a rookie. The likes of Luka Doncic and Trae Young were more popular from a national perspective. Add in his suspension to start this season, and Ayton continues to fly under the radar.
That’s no longer going to be the case. At 6-foot-11, Ayton is as skilled of a young big man as I can remember. He reminds me of a young Karl-Anthony Towns. The numbers are there to back this up, too. The 21-year-old is averaging 19.2 points and 12.0 rebounds on 56% shooting from the field this season. Those are some absurd numbers from such a young big.
Jayson Tatum, forward, Boston Celtics
I’m going to go ahead and give Celtics general manager Danny Ainge credit for pushing back against trading this former lottery pick for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis in the recent past. Ainge knew he had a home-built superstar on his hands. Tatum is doing everything to prove him right.
The former Duke star is averaging an otherworldly 31.4 points and 8.0 rebounds on nearly 50% shooting from the field over his past nine outings heading into this weekend. A first-time All-Star, Tatum might have taken a bit of time to grow into a star. But he’s now at that level. It’s not even up for debate.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
At this point, we’re going to go ahead and conclude general manager Sam Presti pulled a fast one on the Clippers by acquiring Gilgeous-Alexander in the Paul George blockbuster. Seen as an elite defensive force coming out of Kentucky last season, this youngster has now morphed into a real threat on offense.
Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the primary reasons OKC has a real shot for a top-four seed out west after moving both George and Russell Westbrook during the summer. The kid is averaging 19.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 46% shooting from the field. The Thunder have a budding star on their hands.
Domantas Sabonis, center, Indiana Pacers
Some concluded that Sabonis was somehow a throw-in when it came to the blockbuster Victor Oladipo, Paul George trade back in the summer of 2017. That could not be further from the case. In fact, Indiana ultimately acquired two All-Star players in that of Oladipo and Sabonis fo George.
The skilled 23-year-old big is averaging 18.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and a robust 4.9 assists per game this season. He fits the European model of bigs that can pass the ball. Just ask Nikola Jokic. It has Sabonis as a rising star, likely making his father, former NBA center Arvydas, proud in the process. It’s been fun to watch this dude grow.
Bam Adebayo, center, Miami Heat
The 22-year-old Adebayo is a first-time All-Star this season. It makes sense in that he has upped his game to an extraordinary level after being nothing more than a role player over the first two years of his career.
Adebayo is one of the primary reasons his Miami Heat find themselves as a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference with a 37-22 record. He’s averaging 16.2 points 10.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists on 57% shooting from the field. That type of all-around game has impressed the masses and has Bam looking like one of the most-skilled young bigs in the game.
Devonte’ Graham, guard, Charlotte Hornets
While the acquisition of Terry Rozier this past offseason got the most press for Michael Jordan’s squad, the Hornets seemed to have hit a home run with Graham. Selected in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft, this former North Carolina star has been a godsend for Charlotte.
Graham, 25, is averaging 17.7 points and 7.6 assists on 37% shooting from beyond the arc. While he struggles from two-point land (39%), Graham’s all-around game has him looking like the next star for his Hornets.
Brandon Ingram, forward, New Orleans Pelicans
Earlier in February, Ingram appeared in his first All-Star Game after being discarded by his original Los Angeles Lakers squad in the Anthony Davis blockbuster. For good reason. This dude has simply been one of the best wings in the NBA.
Ingram, 22, is averaging 24.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting a rock-solid 40% from three-point range this season. Even with Zion Williamson getting most of the press in Nola, Ingram is one of the primary reasons the Pelicans are making a late-season playoff push. Watch out!